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PLATO TRANSFORMED: 200 YEARS OF TRANSLATING PLATO'S PHAEDRUS



Plato Bust Plato. Fowler & Lamb, 1919.

A Brief History of Translations

Examples of the translations of Phaedrus drawn from Stanford Collections (1804, 1919, 1952, 1995)



A Brief History of Translations. The development of translations into the English language, especially of the works of Plato. By John Mustain, Rare Book Librarian and Selector for Classics, Stanford University.

The Renaissance has been termed "the great age of translations." The rise of Humanism inspired translators from various European countries to translate many texts, especially those of the ancients. England in the early 16th century lagged far behind the Continent in the production of translations: by 1528, for example, Xenophon, Suetonius, Sallust, Thucydides, and Caesar were all readily-available in French; English translations would come only later.

Nicholas Grimshaw, in his 1558 preface to his English translation of Cicero focused on this phenomenon, criticizing the English for not having done for their country what "Italians, Frenchmenne, Spaniards, Dutchmen and other foreigns have liberally done for theirs."1 Henry Billinglsey stated, in the preface to his 1570 translation of Euclid (Barchas Collection QA31.E87 1570 f), that he hoped that his translation would "excite and stirre up others learned, to do the like... By meanes whereof, our Englishe tongue shall no lesse be enriched with good Authors, then are other straunge tongues: as the Dutch, French, Italian and Spanishe: in which are red all good authors in a maner, found amongest the Grekes or Latines."2

Latin was the reigning universal intellectual language of the day, and the best means of having a text read throughout Europe; for those who wrote in such languages as Flemish, Dutch, or Czech, Latin was almost indispensable in the spreading of texts. If the authors were not fluent in Latin, they hired translators or arranged to have the hiring done by their publishers. Translating a work from a foreign tongue into one's vernacular was seen by many as a noble challenge and a contribution to a national literature. Translation as a phenomenon was so esteemed and widespread during the 16th century that the printer Etienne Dolet's La manière de bien traduire d'une langue en aultre (Lyon, 1540) served not only as a manual on how to translate but also as a sign of the times. Castiglione's The Courtier, for example was first published in Italian in 1528. Latin, French, and German translations were already published when Sir Thomas Hoby, declaring that it was his duty to his fellow countrymen to make available in English so useful and learned a guide, translated Castiglione into English in 1561. English translations gradually increased; indeed, "a study of Elizabethan translations is a study of the means by which the Renaissance came to England."3

Over the next decades appeared such time-honored English efforts as North's Plutarch (1579; translated not from the original Greek but from the French of the remarkable Bishop Amyot), Florio's Montaigne (1603; 1632 [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1632 .M6]), Golding's Ovid (1565; 1612 [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1612 .O8]), Lodge's Seneca (1614) [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1614 .S4 F], Harington's Ariosto (1603; 1607 [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1607 .A7]), Sandy's Ovid (1626 [KC1626 .O8]; 1632 [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1632 .O9 f]; 1640 [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1640 .O9 f]), and the six ancient authors translated by Philemon Holland: Livy (1600) [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1600 .L5 f]), Pliny (1601) [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1601 .P5 f], Plutarch's Moralis (1603) [Spec Coll Rare Books KC 1603 .P5 f], Suetonius (1606) [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1606 .S9], Ammianus Marcellinus (1609) [Spec Coll Rare Books KC1609 .A4], and Xenophon (1632).

Translations from other Greek texts appeared in England during the English Renaissance, but some were based on translations of translations (e.g. North's Plutarch, translated from French into English); others were translated from the original Greek, but generally into Latin, the universal scholarly language. Translations of Plato were practically non-existent in the Middle Ages.

Fifteenth century Italy saw a great revival of interest in Greek texts and translations, fueled by a proliferation of new manuscripts from the East, and culminating in the great Greek printed editions of Aldus Manutius in Venice between 1495 and 1515. England's growing interest in Greek texts derived largely from travel in and trade with Italy. While Manutius produced in 1513 a magnificent Greek text of Plato's works (Spec. Coll. Gunst Z239.9.A36 P71 f), it was two French Protestant refugees that achieved the most influential translation of the century: Henri Estienne and Jean de Serres, who dedicated their magnificent 1578 three volume Greek and Latin edition of Plato to Queen Elizabeth (Barchas Collection PA4279.A2 1578 f). This scholarly masterpiece is still used as a definitive Latin text of Plato's works.

More and more Platonic texts were available in England in the 16th century, but the translations were into Latin, and generally done by foreign scholars. Interest in Plato at this time was never as strong in England as it was on the Continent, and this is clearly reflected in the printing of texts: during the period 1485-1603, one edition of one authentic dialogue of Plato was printed in England, while more than 100 editions were published in France, including several editions of the complete works. While interest in translations in general ran high in England during the Tudor period, Plato was virtually ignored save for reading foreign editions.

The Stuart period of English history, however, saw an almost immediate burgeoning of interest in Plato, especially the theme of Platonic love which runs through so much Stuart literature, though there still did not exist an English translation of any of Plato's works, even as a school text. 1675 saw the appearance of the first English translations of authentic dialogues of Plato: the Apology and Phaedo, translated by an anonymous hand and published in London (Spec Coll Rare Books 870608 00001). Platonisme unveil'd (1700), an English translation of a French work, signaled the end of the high interest in Plato in England.

While general interest in Plato dwindled, the strong tendency in 18th century Britain to link schooling and scholarship with the Classics did result in more English translations of Plato, and approximately twenty Platonic dialogues were translated by different scholars over the course of the century. Also appearing in the 18th century was an English abridged edition of the complete works (Spec Coll Rare Books B358 D33 1719), but this translation was based on the French text of Dacier, rather than the original Greek. It is only in the nineteenth century that Plato's complete works are translated directly from the Greek into English, the first edition being that of Thomas Taylor [consult Special Collections], which is shown below.

1 Quoted in Mathiessen, F.O., Translation: an Elizabethan Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931, p. 25

2 Euclid. The elements of geometrie of the most auncient philosopher euclide of Megara. Imprinted at London: By Iohn Daye, 1570, leaf iii

3Mathiessen, p. 3

Sources Consulted:

Clarke, M.L. Greek Studies in England, 1700-1830. Cambridge: University Press, 1945.
Stanford Auxiliary Library 880.7.C599

Jayne, Sears. Plato in Renaissance England. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, c1995.
Green Library Stacks B395.J37 1995

Mathiessen, F.O. Translation: an Elizabethan Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931.
Stanford Auxiliary Library 808.06.M443

Rowse, A.L. The Elizabethan Renaissance: the Life of the Society. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, c1971.
Meyer HN385.R66
Green Library Stacks HN385.R66


1804

Title Page

Title Page



Opening Dialogue

Opening Dialogue

The works of Plato; viz. his fifty-five dialogues, and twelve epistles / translated from the Greek, nine of the dialogues by the late Floyer Sydenham, and the remainder by Thomas Taylor; with occasional annotations on the nine dialogues translated by Sydenham, and copious notes by the latter translator; in which is given the substance of nearly all the existing Greek ms. commentaries on the philosophy of Plato, and a considerable portion of such as are already published. London: Printed for T. Taylor by R. Wilks, and sold by E. Jeffery and R. H. Evans, 1804. 5 v.
Courtesy of Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.
[Item not yet cataloged; consult Special Collections]


1919

Frontispiece

Frontispiece



Title Page

Title Page



Opening Dialogue

Opening Dialogue

Plato: with an English translation by H.N. Fowler and an introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. London: William Heinemann ; New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1919. 9 v.
Courtesy of Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.
Classics Dept 888.4 .JF78
Stanford Auxiliary Library 888.4 .JF78
Tanner Philosophy 888.4 .JF78


1952

Title Page

Title Page



Opening Dialogue

Opening Dialogue

Phaedrus / translated with introd. and commentary by R. Hackforth. Cambridge: University Press, 1952.
©1952, Cambridge University Press.
Green Library Stacks B380.A5H32
Classics Dept B380.A5H32


1995

Title Page

Title Page



Opening Dialogue

Opening Dialogue

Phaedrus / translated, with introduction and notes, by Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff ; with a selection of early Greek poems and fragments about love, translated by Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1995.
©1995, Hackett
Green Library Stacks B380 .A5 N44 1995

How can we go about trying to understand Plato, when so much--the whole history of Western philosophy--separates us from him? How well can we ever hope to understand him? ... It is tempting to answer these questions in a resigned, negative manner. We might think that there is no good method of approaching a thinker who wrote dramatic philosophical works...and who...never spoke in his own voice; no hope that whatever approach we adopt, we will be able to understand at all well an author who lived--socially, intellectually, emotionally, and ideologically--in a world so different from ours... The essays collected in this volume, written roughly over the last twenty-five years, reject these skeptical answers.
From: Nehamas, Alexander. Virtues of Authenticity: Essays on Plato and Socrates. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999: p.[xv].
©1999, Princeton University Press.

The Phaedrus is a dialogue in the most literal sense. Unlike a number of Plato's other works, it is a conversation between two and only two people... [Phaedrus] thinks that life would be unbearable without the pleasures of philosophical conversation [but] it is not clear that he understands the profound effect that philosophical ideas can have on one's life. Socrates' Great Speech may in fact be intended to convince him...that philosophy is life's most serious activity.
From: Nehamas. Virtues of Authenticity. P.332.
©1999, Princeton University Press.

Like rhetoric, the dialogue also cannot produce knowledge but only conviction... Not to take the Phaedrus seriously in the proper sense is to take philosophy seriously. But to take philosophy seriously, perhaps paradoxically but also appropriately for a work that delights in paradoxes and twists of its own, it to take the Phaedrus as well very seriously after all.
From: Nehamas. Virtues of Authenticity. P.353-354.
©1999, Princeton University Press.



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